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Exploring Rivers
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In IquitosIn Iquitos (Norma McGavern-Norland)
On our elegant ship, where we spent a week exploring the Amazon and several other rivers, memorably the Pacaya in the pristine Pacaya-Samiria Reserve, we were coddled with nightly tasting menus of imaginatively prepared local and Peruvian food, wine, and Pisco Sours, Peru's national cocktail. (Peruvian food overall, including Lima, is the most interesting and delicious amalgam of flavors from the Andes, the ocean, the tropics - fruit for example - and the Amazon.) Cocooned in our air-conditioned staterooms we could watch the insects plaster themselves on the outside on our windows after dark. From our short hikes we returned drenched with sweat, even though our expeditions were completed before 11 in the morning and departed no earlier than 4 in the afternoon. We wore long sleeves despite the heat because of insects or the chance, say, of leaning against ''punishment trees'' where biting ants crawl up and down the trunks or up and down whatever is touching the trunks, hats to protect ourselves from the sun, and rubber boots because of snakes. (Two separate hikes crossed paths with two snakes.) We knew, too, as we coasted in small launches along the rivers that the lovely inviting riverbanks were not really as welcoming as they looked, even though malaria-carrying mosquitos were not found in this area, according to our ship's guides, proof of which was that the little owl monkeys we saw don't live in malarial areas.

We would not have wanted to be abandoned for a night without shelter. We knew there were plenty of snakes, not to mention the toxic frogs, the bats, the giant spiders, and the light-reflecting red eyes of the cayman that lined both banks of the river at night.

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